June 28, 2017 - Based on the results we have obtained the team has arrived at three probable hypotheses to account for who this individual is and what happened to them.
Given the timeframe, location of burial, and biological profile of the individual recovered our first hypothesis is that this individual is the young daughter spoken of in the oral history of this site. Genetic testing of this individual revealed that they were predominately of European decent which would likely be true of a daughter of this prominent Amherst family
during the Civil War era. The fact that these remains were found buried in such an unconventional way with a blunt force trauma injury might explain why the story of this individual survived in only one branch of the family. Furthermore, on the last day of our excavation we noticed that the remains were buried near a number of large rocks which appeared to be part of some kind of structure. The story of the individual buried in this area states that she was buried near the house. If the stones discovered near the remains did prove to be part of the foundations of the summer home it might provide more evidence that the individual recovered is at least connected to this family. However, since we were unable to excavate more than a very small portion of this apparent structure it is difficult to draw any conclusions from it.
Our second hypothesis is that this individual may have been a factory worker. More women began working in factories during the Industrial Revolution and Civil War and diseases such as tuberculosis were common among factory workers due to the close quarters and unsanitary conditions. It should also be noted that Irish immigrants in the area often worked in factories and genetic testing of this individual did reveal Irish ancestry.
Our third hypothesis, and perhaps our most compelling, is that this is the burial of a Civil War soldier. While it might seem unusual for a female to be a soldier in the Civil War it is not impossible. Over 400 women disguised themselves as men during the Civil War so that they might be able to fight. What’s more, soldiers during the Civil War were often buried hastily and without ceremony. The bodies of these soldiers were often wrapped in wool blankets which turn the surrounding soil black as they decompose. The skeletal evidence too is consistent with the theory that these are the remains of a soldier. A blunt force trauma wound might have occurred during battle and caused death. While the spinal pathology might be explained by tuberculosis (common among soldiers during the Civil War due to unsanitary conditions) or a degenerative disease (also common among soldiers even at younger ages due to the rigors of war).
June 28, 2017 - After the completion of the excavation during week two, there was an urgency to analyze the evidence and remains as there was only seven days in which the team could run and perform their analyses. In the lab, the remains were aged, sexed and measured for stature. The evidence was treated similarly. After all of the primary analyses were completed, the forensics team came together and discussed the type of analyses that they wanted to outsource.
Surface scans were done to look for irregularities in and on the outfit, elements and the evidence. On the elements, few irregularities were found. Due to this, the element which portrayed possible peri- or post-mortem trauma (the skull) was X-rayed. The results of the X-rays showed that they teeth portrayed periodontal disease as well as linear enamel hypoplasia. The results also relayed to the team that the fractures found on the teeth did not show signs of wear and can thus be assumed to have been fractured more recently.
Microscopy was used to do comparative analysis on string and soil samples to look at their degree of related-ness. Microscopy was also used in order to look in-depth at the surface of different pieces of evidence including coins, jewelry, fabrics, botanical samples, etc. This led to the outsourcing of soil and mold sample analyses. The soil sample analyses, as done by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, showed that the body decayed while it was in the proximity of two of the soils. It also portrayed that the soil found in the outer folds of the tarp originated from the soil found within the feature of the burial itself. The mold sample analyses results showed a presence of Aspergillus. This is a common fungal growth that is found with the decomposition of human remains and textiles.
On the elements, there were irregularities in the fusing of the sacral median crest. As there was a lack of traditional fusing of the sacral median crest/spine it is apparent that the individual to which the remains belonged had spina bifida.
Based on what was discovered through the analyses of the evidence and the remains it can be assumed that the remains belonged to an adolescent or young adult male of Hispanic origins with ties to Mexico. They also demonstrate that the individual was of a lower socioeconomic class and worked a job in heavy labor. The analyses also showed that there was no physical evidence of peri- or postmortem trauma that can be seen on the elements and thus the burial was simply an illegal burial of a loved one that dates to 2001 at the earliest.
June 19, 2017 - Day Five: We continued work on unit C extending it another 1 x 1 m to the northeast. In the NE quadrant of the NW extension we discovered two voids. These were likely rodent disturbance but this is indicative of loose soil. In the NE quadrant of the NE extension we found several pieces of pottery and porcelain. Furthermore, it seemed that the cut mark we first saw in the SW part of unit C continued into the NE extension of unit C.
June 20, 2017 - Day Six: We continued work in the NE extension of unit C. All artifacts (mostly fragmented glass and pottery) and faunal remains we found were concentrated in the NE quadrant of this extension. Because all of this concentration of artifacts we decided to close unit C and open unit D. Unit D included the faunal remains found in unit C and extended diagonally to the northeast.
June 21, 2017 - Day Seven: We continued work taking unit D down to level deciding in the process that about half of the unit was sterile. We ceased excavation in this portion of the unit and focused instead on the feature we had uncovered. We removed the faunal remains and continued down another level eventually uncovering human remains. From what we were able to see (iliac crest, humerus and radius, head of the femur) we suspected the individual might have been buried on their side in the fetal position and we restrung our unit according to the directionality of the remains.
June 22, 2017 - Day Eight: We took the wall in unit E down to the level of the remains found the day before in two passes so that we didn't lose too much context in case anything was discovered. Since nothing was discovered we were quickly able to begin uncovering more of the remains. From what we could see of both the remains and the artifacts we recovered it appeared to be a flex burial in some kind of trash pit. Notably, we did find a cross in the burial pit as well. However, we found this while sifting and therefore lost the context.
June 23, 2017 - Day Nine: Our last day in the field was grey although less rainy than our first as we finished recovering the remains. The black soil which we had noticed around the remains continued underneath the body as well. We therefore continued excavating until the soil color returned to normal uncovering a number of additional artifacts in the process. At the end of the day we noticed that the large rocks on the east side of the burial were stacked like a wall or foundation. However, we did not have time to get a really good look at this structure.
June 23, 2017 - Continuing on with excavating test pit #3, the feature continued down about 60cm into the ground. We came across a tarp in level #2 and when we were able to uncover the tarp there was a body wrapped within the tarp. As a team we mapped in the body taking initial depth measurements from the head, shoulders, pelvis, knees and feet of the body and then we mapped in the elements of the body. In and around the body we found an abundance of sunflower seeds; we collected as many as we could from the burial. We also took soil samples from within the tarp and from below the tarp. There were rocks within the tarp that did not look consistent with the rocks within the Taphonomic Research Laboratory so we decided to take rock samples, soil samples, and bark samples from the river located near the TRL. After recovering the body we continued to excavate until we reached sterile soil in order to find the limits of the original burial pit. By Friday we had made great progress which allowed us to search through the remaining leaf litter to find evidence we may have missed. We are all excited for being able to do the lab analyses of the bones and material evidence in order to find out what happened.
June 13, 2017 - Day One: It was a rainy and cold day one. We started with a pedestrian survey flagging artifacts and ground disturbances. We also divided the site into four sections (the west area, the east area, and the northwest, northeast and south sections of the east area). Artifacts found in our pedestrian survey include a lot of fragmented pottery, buttons, animal bones, a camp fire, and the sole of a shoe.
June 14, 2017 - Day Two: We removed leaf litter in the areas we were most interested in. We established our datum. We also set up and leveled our first pit, a 2 x 1 m in the south section. We chose this area based on the ground disturbance on the surface and that revealed by GPR.
June 15, 2017 - Day Three: We went down one level in unit A (arbitrary level-5cm). Ultimately, we decided to close this unit since a very straight cut mark and buried leaf litter made it seem like an old archaeological pit. We then set up two more 1 x 1 m pits, one in the northwest section and the other in the northeast. We also started work in unit C in the northeast section.
June 16, 2017 - Day Four: We opened and closed unit B in the northwest section for the same reasons we closed unit A. We took unit C down to level one (arbitrary level-5cm) and added another 1 x 1 m to the north side of unit C. We originally chose the location for unit C based on GPR scans which revealed ground disturbance in the area. We decided to expand this unit based on the discovery of an irregular cut mark which may have been the result of a burial.
June 16, 2017 - During the first week, our team was able to map out the perimeter of our site, conduct a survey (both parallel and perpendicular to the site) where we walked over the ground to identify any evidence and/or material on the surface of the leaf litter, divide our site into quadrants and those quadrants into sectors in order to collect and sift the leaf litter while controlling the context of where the leaf litter came from and we were able to establish two 2x1 test pits in. The areas cleared were areas we wanted to investigate for topography changes and soil color changes that may indicate a burial. For the chosen two areas for the establishment of 2x1 test pits, they were chosen due to their lack of vegetation, topography, and the GPR (ground penetrating radar) readings indicating disturbances in or around these areas. With it being the end of week one, the team is thinking about what we have found and are trying to figure out what could be occurring. We have yet to find any part of the remains, but our test pits are both showing a mixing of soils, which suggests that someone may have disturbed the soil prior to our arrival. This week our team hopes to find the body's remains. In addition, we hope to see the kind of trauma presents on the remains in order to better establish how the material we found during surveying and sifting may relate to the burial.
June 24, 2016 - The sexing process was quick and the results concluded a probable male. The biological profiling assessed the individual for sex, age, and stature. The results of each person’s measurements and calculations were averaged and a consensus among the group was formed. Based on the morphological features, the male victim was mid-to-late 40s, and stood at 5’6”-6’2”. Based on the artifact dating, the date in which the body was probably put into the burial ranges from 1790-1860s. There were multiple buttons found under the sternum that suggests association with the elements. These were dated to at least first being released in the 1790s. On the bottom layer of the midden, there were 1860s instatement buttons present. These dates are confirmed with ceramic dating artifacts such as the tin-type glazing pieces, the stoneware, and the ironware, which give a date of 1860s. The midden artifacts were mostly civil war era, and according to the intrusion principle, the body would’ve been placed before the midden since the body was found under the midden. The rosary pieces that were found in direct contact with the left os coxa were dated to the 1790s to the early 1810s.
The skeleton showed multiple traumas and pathologies that occurred most likely before death. The skull specifically endured depression fractures above his left eye and on the right parietal. Some long bones had prominent muscle attachments and pronounced tuberosities. Some long bones also exhibited periosteal reactions and osteoblastic activity as well as activity that could be attributed to old age. Around the area we deemed our feature, there was a circle of river rocks that created a sort of wall for the body. The position the body was placed in and the intact articulation of the body, confirm the shroud burial atmosphere of the feature. The bottom of the feature and the burial showed no soil staining that could possibly indicate the the skeleton was encased within a coffin of sorts.
June 17, 2016 - This week we were tasked with organizing and analyzing all artifacts and remains collected in the field. After backfilling our excavation units and washing our skeletal remains we came up with a game plan for inventorying our artifacts. As artifacts were added to the inventory list they slowly began being identified and dated. Every member of the team did age and sex estimation on the individual and we came to the conclusion of a male somewhere between 40-50 years of age. A few members did stature estimations and came out with conflicting results, and calculations may need to be redone. Sam and Cat got a stature of about 5’8”-6’2”, using both equations for every long bone in the White book for each identified race, while others got a lower height and a higher height. We finished up the week with our midden having a date range between the 1880’s and 1920’s. Not all of the artifacts in the midden were dated so this range may expand. However, we can conclude that our burial is pre-1880’s because the midden confined to a space in the ground superficial to the cranium and not scattered throughout the burial. Our group also was able to submit a grant proposal on Friday for funding to test artifacts using various dating methods.
June 10, 2016 - This week we were tasked with finding the boundaries of our burial, and excavating our entire skeleton/associated artifacts. It started out slow by opening at least 3 negative test units to find and determine the differences between sterile and disturbed soil. The digging process was slow, but we found the first sighting of bone on June 9, and from there on we dug faster. We completed the entire excavation of the skeleton by Friday afternoon, although our artifact accumulation was sloppy, finding many through screening and losing contextual significance. For example, we did not find the extent of the northern boundary of the burial, or including the rock wall as a part of our feature due to lack of time. Our team work improved once elements were exposed and we were able to map efficiently and quickly.
June 10, 2016 - This past week was a struggle involving personal physical exhaustion and mental exhaustion in terms of constantly being aware of the time crunch that our team was experiencing. Towards the beginning of the week we were concerned about being able to properly recover and excavate the entire body, but as of Friday, all of the remains and presumable personal belongings of the victim have been collected, photographed, and properly documented.
We knew that the test pit we began last Friday was a good spot to continue excavation in due to the presence of the soil changes present on the profile of the wall that we were excavating. We saw several layers of soil changes that were uneven in height, length, and density, and this was indicative of there being previous and recent disturbance in the area that we were digging. Also, different layers of soil provided us with different types of evidence that may or may not be pertinent to our case, further analysis will occur in the next 8 days to conclude the findings of the evidence that was collected.
June 3, 2016 - We started the week off by being very overwhelmed and jumping to a lot of conclusions, and ended the week with a lot of overthinking. Our initial thought was that a depression was our burial, but it turned out to be too recent. Thankfully this week we were blessed with warm weather. On Tuesday we struggled with setting up our grid due to the irregularity of the fence and ground. We also flagged most of the surface artifacts, such as pot sherds, buttons, faunal bones, and varies ballistic casings. By early Wednesday morning we had finished our grid, bagged flagged artifacts, and had begun to screen the leaf litter, finding most of the remaining artifacts in the screen; however some artifacts were found out of context. On Thursday, we made a dent in our leaf piles and began a test pit which presented a nice example of soil color differentiation from backfill from a previous test unit. On Friday, we closed that first test unit, opened one, and began setting up another.
June 3, 2016 - We started off the week tense but eager. Tuesday we mapped our site and walked transects to look for and flag surface evidence. On Wednesday we made a grid and took a million pictures of the grid. Then on Thursday we photographed and collected all of our surface evidence; which included crawling through a bunch of leaves and being poked in the face with tree branches. We then sifted a literal ton of leaves and on Friday we finally put our trowels in the ground and dug three test pits, one of which we feel very good about and shows promising signs. The rest is classified information and cannot be shared until the investigation is complete.
June 19, 2015 - Our first week in the lab has been long! After washing, drying, and retagging artifacts, we finally got to have a look at our remains. At first glance there is only one obvious feature on the spine where modification is occurring. As a group, we aged the skeleton to between 30 and 40 years and are still debating on the sex of the individual. Artifact analysis has taken up a large portion of our time as we have a lot of them! Our most promising finds associated with the burial are part of rosary beads, iron nails, and a glass bottle. Cutmarks were found on the mandible and on the lower legs which could be consistent with how our body was positioned with the head and femurs placed on top of the chest. We're looking forward to presenting on our finds next week!
June 19, 2015 - This week in the lab was a whole slew of new experiences for us! From having to be careful to wear gloves at all times , we also began to panic over the other team not having to wear gloves (though in this case a little neuroses is not completely a bad thing)! We learned about how difficult it is to be able to maintain a chain of evidence while we are washing and drying artifacts (we succeeded though!) as well as keep track of what goes where and who belongs to what bag while also allowing the artifacts to dry on the drying rack. After that we were able to “bag’n’tag” our dried artifacts being sure to make sure any and all ceramics and pieces of pottery were completely dry, because we learned that just because the surface is dry doesn’t mean it’s dried all the way through.
And so we maintained our chain of evidence from within our evidence locker, getting our skeleton articulated on the table we noticed something right away a gunshot wound right through the left orbit! But we also learned from our time in the classroom that we are not to make assumptions about cause of death, only describe trauma on the skeleton. We have narrowed the potential bullet down to a 9mm or anything in that range (including a .22) based on min/max measurements of both the entrance wound and the exit wound and the bullets and casings that we have found on the scene. We are also figuring out how to assess cutmarks on the body and potentially how and when they got there. One of the very interesting things is that we were able to excavate the full body, but we were still missing most of the right hand and the right ulna. Of course it could be just because of animals, but it could also possibly be something entirely more insidious!
June 12, 2015 - With hopes high, we expanded our units around a discolored soil feature we had found during a test excavation the week before. This feature seemed likely to be a grave because of it's general size and shape - about 2 meters long and 1 1/2 meters wide. It looked to be full of loose back-fill and was possibly a pit that had been dug and refilled in the past.
In the end, we opened six one-meter by one-meter units around the feature, taking all the units down to about 20 centimeters below the surface to get the full extent of the soil discoloration. We found that the feature narrowed the further we excavated, (I.E. the sides of the back-filled pit were slanted), but even so we thought it was still a likely candidate for a grave site.
With the complete feature exposed we were able to refocus our excavations, closing the parts of the units that were clearly within sterile soil so we only had a little over 2 one-by-one meter units open. After a seemingly endless amount of dirt, rocks, and roots, we finally uncovered the top of a skull late Thursday afternoon. Friday turned out to be a bit tense and little chaotic but, ultimately, we managed to recover the full skeleton and much of the context of the burial just in the nick of time.
June 12, 2015 - We started out week two refreshed and ready to dig. We determined where we thought the remains were by soil discoloration, and set up two new units around the original one. We found a few artifacts while digging, and collected them, and will later determine their relevance. We were more enthused to work due to the sunny, dry weather, and because we defined the burial line between the three of our units. Although it did rain a little earlier in the week, we came onto the site to find that our excavation units remained dry. On Wednesday, we started finding bones that outlined the position of the body. Another unit was opened, connecting to the others, to find the last defining line of the feature. Once that was opened and dug down a level, we determined we could make our current units smaller. Once we redefined our units, we continued to dig them all down to make them level with one another.
After our units were all at an equal depth, we restrung them, and made a final excavation unit around the remains. We continued to dig around the remains, finding more and more bones. Once the majority of the body was uncovered, we mapped, sketched and photographed everything. After that was done, each element was collected as we went along. Some generalized mapping needed to be done due to complications and time restrictions, but in the end we recovered all of the remains and artifacts that were included in the burial pit. After two weeks of vigorous work, we were both happy and sad to reach the end of our experience in the field. Overall, we were proud of all the work we’ve accomplished in such a short amount of time, while learning new things along the way.
June 5, 2015 - The beginning of the week was wet and cold and we had a few issues when we tried to map but eventually got our grid down. We finished collecting all of our surface artifacts by Tuesday afternoon and began cleaning our leaf litter. It finally cleared up Wednesday and we were able to get 90% cleared by the end of day. Thursday we finished the leaf clean up, metal detected the southern half of our area, and set up a few test units. Today we began continuing on our units. We set up another two shovel test pits and expanded on a feature we found in our second test unit. By the end of the day we hope to narrow down our choices, or hopefully find our burial!
June 5, 2015 - The past week was both tiring and exciting. We went into the field not knowing what to expect. Even though it was both raining and cold on our first day, we kept our attitudes positive because we were just excited to finally be on site. We took necessary measurements, and walked through our site, looking for artifacts. We found some interesting artifacts, ones that we think are important to our case. After performing our walking survey, we mapped all of the artifacts, and ended the day with photographing and collecting them. We started day two in a similar situation as day one, cold and rainy. We found some new artifacts, and started to section off some areas that we deemed important and sifted through the leaves in them. On day three, we weren’t particularly looking forward to what was coming next; raking and sorting through more leaves, although the warmer, sunny weather did lift our spirits. We finished sifting the leaves and began using the metal detector to go over some areas. And on day four, we finished clearing the leaves out of our site, then used the metal detector to scan over our cleared ground for any missed artifacts. By the end of the day, each of us set up our own test unit, and began digging. Our plan is to continue with our test units until we find something in them. We are very optimistic about what we’ve accomplished in our first week, and we’re eager to finally begin digging.
June 1, 2015 - After a two week crash course on human osteology, field methods and other subjects such as ethics and theories pertaining to bioarchaeology, we stepped into the field for the first time today ready to begin our own excavation. Unfortunately it was cold and rainy, but after an initial stumble we believe we are back on track and ready to begin again. We hope to finish mapping our surface finds and continue on with the next step in our excavation tomorrow. As for now, we are thawing out from a wet day of pedestrian surveying and artifact mapping, hoping that soon the feeling will return to our fingers...
June 1, 2015 - Over the past two weeks, we’ve had courses in human osteology and excavation. We may have been tired from the long hours we put in, but we were craving knowledge. We’ve learned how to determine sex, age, and stature just by examining human remains. We’ve learned to treat human remains with respect, knowing that they were once a living being with their own story. We’ve learned how to recognize pathologies on the bones, as well as trauma analysis and violence. We’ve learned how to locate sites, and set up our own unit, as well as the dos and don’ts in the field. Even though this has all been crammed into our heads within two weeks, we understood that this was the foundation of our learning, and that we will use this information in our field for the rest of our lives.
While in the field, we plan on first measuring our site, and performing a walking survey, while flagging any feature we deem important. We plan on performing a systematic random sampling strategy once we determine where our first unit will be placed for sampling. Our main goal is to find the remains in our site, identify them once found, and determine the cause of death. Overall we hope to get more real life experience in the forensic field, and we are excited to put what we learned in the classroom to use in the field.
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